How (Not) To Handle Your Interview.

One of the things we’ve been doing a lot lately, is recruiting new folks to fill some project-specific and general positions we’ve had open.

You’ll hear plenty of interview advice from a wide range of sources, but I figure I’d pipe in with my own thoughts on the subject, spurred on by various hiring experiences over the past few years.

- Let’s start with the cover letter. In Juuso’s recent post about 3D artists, he hit the nail on the head regarding intro/cover letters. Unless otherwise specified, keep it brief, to the point, and relevant to the job. If you can make a personal connection (for example, if you know the person’s name), definitely do so. And make sure to spell their name right!

- If you don’t know anything about the person you’re writing to, don’t automatically assume they’re a “hiring manager”, “human resources manager” or any other title. Just address them as “To whom it may concern” or something along those lines.

- For your cover letter and resumé, make sure you spell- and grammar-check! Some folks will not even bother looking at your resumé if they start tripping over your language. Now if English is not your first language, there’s of course nothing wrong with that – but it would behoove you to ask someone to check your text. Even someone in the forums!

- Make sure the items in your submission – resumé, cover letter, relevant additional materials – all line up in terms of your experience. Putting this in terms of a 3D artist: don’t say in your cover letter that you’re “an incredibly talented artist with over five years of experience at major companies” if your portfolio contains nothing much beyond your first-year final exam character skeleton test that you think happens to look pretty nifty. The folks doing the hiring need to see product. What happens is, they read your cover letter, then check your portfolio – if they don’t match up, it’s a red flag.

- Don’t take the above to mean that if you’re just starting out, you’re out of luck! The thing to do is speak to your experience. Talk about your experience in your cover letter, talk about what you want to be doing in five years, etc. Don’t lie, don’t oversell yourself – if you cheat your way into a serious position and then can’t deliver, you’re outta there, and fat chance on any sort of referral or recommendation. We receive resumés and portfolios constantly, and I read and check all of them out – there’s a folder full of people who are new to the industry or looking to break in, and we’ll give them the opportunity when the proper positions need filling. So, you heard back from the company that you applied to? Great!

– Make sure to stay humble in any subsequent communications – don’t be the one giving orders… Actually, this isn’t coming out the way I have it in my head, so how about an example: I was communicating with a candidate via e-mail, receiving nothing but one-line replies. For me, not really a big deal, but the curtness was off-putting. One of the last replies to me read “Let’s say the 20th and we’ll take it from there.” That’s it. What this candidate did not understand was that he was one out of a huge number of candidates, and assumed that I could just rearrange my entire schedule around his uncertainty. This is wrong to assume. Consider the person you’re writing to as a dictator with a full schedule, and that at least 50 other people are applying for the same job.

- In fact, if you’re asked when you are available, give them a few dates that are completely free for you. When they get back to you with an exact time, take it and say “thank you.” If you need to reschedule, that is okay but make sure to let them know as far in advance as possible.

Now it’s time for the interview! Make sure to pre-game this bad boy.

- Find out the company’s exact address, and make sure you know at least two ways to get there. Do not be late. Do not be too early, either.

- Bring the phone number with you in case you get stuck somewhere and need to let them know that you’ll be a few minutes late, or need to reschedule. Better yet, do not be late.

– Have the answers in your head for common questions, and generally practice everything you want to say in the mirror. When they ask you “do you have any questions for us” or “where do you see yourself in a year” or really, any question, the worst answer you can give is “I don’t know.” Consider your interview tanked if those words come out of your mouth.

- Further, the worst things to say in an interview are “Um” “Hmm” “Uhh” “Like”. Know what I mean?

- Don’t be late!

That’s just the pre-game! Onto the actual interview.

- You’re ready to go? Alrighty. No matter what company or what position you’re interviewing for, make sure you dress nicely. I can’t stress this enough. Just because they make games and dress like bums in the office doesn’t mean that you should do the same for your interview. Even if they say explicitly not to dress up, get dressed up. You have one chance, and one chance only, to make a first impression – and if there’s a queue of twenty other candidates who will dress up, you’d better believe that you in your cargo pants and Nikes aren’t sending the right message.

- For guys, this means at the very least slacks, longsleeve button-down shirt and nice shoes – if you have a jacket, wear it. If you go the jacket route, you can rock a Polo shirt, just make sure it matches and isn’t wrinkled. No sneakers. Don’t wear a t-shirt underneath your dress shirt that has some sort of design on it that shows through. Tuck your shirt in. Wear a belt. Comb your hair. Check your breath. No stubble. No backpacks. No hats (unless it is winter) and no sunglasses. Do not put on any cologne or scented sprays! Why? Because the person you meet might be allergic or very sensitive. For girls… actually, I think most girls are aware of this “dress nice” rule; definitely mores than the guys. But ladies, you’re not exempt – same basic rules apply!

- Introduce yourself! Sure, they know who you are, but so what? It’s proper etiquette. “Hi” doesn’t cut it.

– Don’t think you know the person that is interviewing you. You may develop a good rapport, which is fantastic, but be careful not to take it too far into “friendly” territory.

– To reiterate, watch your “Ums” “Hmms” “Uhhs” and “Likes”. If you need to think about a question, be quiet and think about it. Or even preface it by saying “I need to think about that a moment” instead of “Hmmm, hmmm, errmmm, ahhh, hmmmm.”

- It is okay to admit that you don’t know the answer to a question. Saying “You know, I’ve never heard of that before, but I’ll be sure to look into it” is so much better than guessing – because if you guess wrong, you end up looking a bit foolish. Plus, no one wants a “guesser” working for them – they want someone who will do the legwork if they need to fill a gap in their knowledge. You’ll never know everything there is to know about a subject, and this is okay – don’t pretend to.

- Make sure you have copies of your resumés on hand. Don’t bring copies of your cover letter – if you’re being interviewed, you’re beyond the usefulness of it. The exception being if your cover letter covers additional experience that might be relevant, but doesn’t fit anywhere in your resumé.

- Confidence is your friend! If you believe in yourself, that confidence will project outward to others, and they will in turn have confidence in you.

Those are my tips for anyone applying to any job, at any point in their professional career. Ideally all of this should be common knowledge, but you never know. Follow the basics and you’ll be set to tackle any interview!

Note: opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.